Is “Little Women” Really Feminist?

Is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott a feminist story? Another adaptation of this book was released in film form over the holidays, written and directed by the audacious filmmaker Greta Gerwig, and featuring Saoirse Ronan as “Jo.” This breathtakingly beautiful film has inspired controversy around the question of whether or not the story is “feminist.” 

The film tells the struggle of female artists during a time when mainstream media was hostile to telling stories of women’s lives or stories from their point of view. More broadly, the story delves into the struggles women faced 150 years in making their way through a world bound my gendered constraints. The characters show righteous anger when confronted with sexist limitations, but in the end, Jo gets married, which defies a core part of her character. 

The novel/book have stirred a debate about whether they are feminist. According to researcher Hillary Kelly, “Little Women is not a feminist novel.” She writes that “It is obsessed with wifely duty — deferential to patriarchy and dismissive of female ambition of any variety other than the maternal.” On the opposite side, Kathleen Keenan argues that “Little Women is a feminist novel” because Jo marries an unconventional suitor who takes her writing seriously. Furthermore, she writes, “Little Women argues that women’s lives are worthy of examination. Women’s stories deserve to be heard. Even when beloved female characters make disappointing choices, writing and sharing their stories is a feminist act.”

Take Action! Share this article on social media and let us know what you think. Is Little Women a feminist novel? Is Gerwig’s adaptation a feminist film?